Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Heritage in Words & Pictures

Was just rootin' around in my office @ home & re-discovered some pix my cousin Wanda gave us all a few family reunions ago. It strikes me that my regular reader ; ) may not have seen these. But even if you have, much of who I am is defined by these people...

This is a not-so-great picture of one of the greatest ladies I have ever known: Martha Ferguson Madaris, better known as "Mattie"...better known to me as "Grandma." Hers was not a particularly easy life, but you'd never heard that from her. What a lady!

I have no idea who the handsome, short, blonde guy is...*smile* Let's just say you've met him...Can you tell that Dad, Jim & I used the same barber?

This is a superb pic of Charlie & Mattie, my grandparents. This was taken not long before Charlie died. Change the 'do, & this is how I remember Mattie looking for the last 20 years or so of her life. Only smiling or laughing would've been the common facial thing...

Charlie, Mattie, & their young'uns, ca. 1955. The very dashingly handsome gent 2nd from the right is who my son is named after...he's my son's grandpa, my dad, James. Gotta love the hairstyles & dresses, huh? *smile* Uncle Don, Aunt Daisy, Aunt Margaret, & Aunt Frances are the only ones still with us here. Just had lunch w/ Margaret & Frances when I was in FL before Christmas. Frances' son Gary is a year younger than I, and was one of my best friends growing up. We roomed together @ Bama, as did our Moms! (I've always thought that is pretty cool) Gary helped me come to know the Lord and helped me meet Lisa...other than that, he hasn't been all that important in my life... *smile*

Charlie--Grandpa--was a sawmill guy. He's the swarthy gent in this pic.

This is Charlie & some of his siblings. Charlie died when I was 1, but the laugh you see here (front lower left) is in line with what I've heard about him. I never met John Henry, but I do remember Jessie & Lena coming to a number of family gatherings. There was another brother named Perry (whom I met a time or two) and another couple of siblings as well. But I've always loved this picture of Grandpa. That laugh (shared w/ his wife Mattie too) was passed on down to their 8 children. And--I hope--to me and to my children too.

An earlier pic of Charlie & Mattie and their kids. The movie-star-handsome guy in the middle of the back row is my Dad. I always wished I had inherited more of his looks...oh well...

Charlie & Mattie as newly-weds just after the first World War.

The young doughboy near the end of WWI. 2 of his sons and 3 sons-in-law fought in the next world war. In this one, Charlie was a cook in France on a combat unit, and was also an expert marksman.
I love this one too even though it's rather poignant. The young teenage girl on the right is Mattie. Also in this one are her Dad, her little sister Pearl (whom I remember quite well), and her little brother Tom, whom I also remember quite well. You'll note the absence of a Mom. Remember when I said Mattie's life wasn't easy? Her mother, Frances, suffered a mental breakdown shortly before this pic was taken, and spent the rest of her days in the state mental hospital near Tuscaloosa. Thus, around age 12, Mattie went from "girl" to "grownup" in a hurry. She became the primary raise-er of Tom & Pearl. I cannot imagine being the primary caregiver of 2 little kids at age 12...And yet, nobody ever heard her complain. About anything! (Though he died before I was born, I've heard that her Dad was a great guy w/ a great faith as well. One of my aunts remembers late in his life hearing him sing the great hymns of the faith loudly just as he was relaxing by himself.) She was a remarkable lady whom I still miss hard, especially around Christmas. Hers was a life--and faith--that mattered greatly to many. I hope I grow into displaying more of her traits...

It goes on back farther, though I don't have pix. About 70-80 years before this last pic was taken, an ancestor named Abner McGehee was led to Christ by a circuit-riding Methodist preacher named Hope Hull. Mr. Hull discipled Abner in the faith, and it mattered greatly. Abner taught his kids the glory & grandeur of the Gospel. When the Civil War cost Abner his house & his farm & his fortune? Willingly ascribed to God's providence, and accepted in the uncomplaining manner that I knew in his descendant Mattie and in her children.

If you ever find yourself driving north on the interstate through central Alabama just south of Montgomery, you'll be reminded of Mike Madaris' family Christianity. You'll notice an exit or two for a rural area called "Hope Hull." (Last time I was there, they were about to build a large car manufacturing there, though it's still fairly rural.) That community used to be known in the 1830s as "McGehee's Switch." After the huge impact the preacher had on Abner, the patriarch of McGehee's Switch, he renamed the community after the one who had proclaimed the Gospel to him. Personally, every time I see the "Hope Hull" exit off the interstate, it chokes me up. It reminds me of my oh-so-deep spiritual roots and godly heritage. And it challenges me to continue trying to pass the legacy on.
And now you've seen some Madaris family pix & heard just a smidge of our shared story. Been thinking much lately about the legacy I inherited as I think through my goals for the new year.
Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah. For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Psalm 61:4-5
(p.s. - I have a very rich heritage on the other side of the family too...Stay tuned...)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Some left over whittling...

There's a great scene in The Music Man that captures a day like today for me. The older gent is sitting around, & his wife begins fussing at him for not doing anything (note: that getting fussed at part does not apply to me...*smile*). He looks up & says something like "You're wrong, woman...I'm a busy man! I've got some whittlin' left over from this morning..."

So, here's some left over whittling...in no particular order. Enjoy! (or something...)

1. Among the many utterly cool things about teaching as a career, days off @ Christmas is right up toward the top. That plus the huge paycheck...

2. James & I are heading out to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl next week! He was offered some tix by a buddy, only to discover that the "offer" meant "I'll sell you some tix"...oh well...We're going to enjoy this immensely!

3. Regrettably, #2 means that we won't be able to watch the Sugar Bowl. Let there be no doubt that I hope my Tide delivers a beatdown on the Utes. And that I expect that this will be a pretty tough game.

4. I am very excited about the Christmas Eve service @ church tonight, although I'm not thrilled to not be with my family during it. (I'll be doing my tech duties). Y'all should come, if you're in the H'burg area: 6:00 p.m., & it won't last very long.

5. Last night's bowl game was--as expected--a great game between two very good teams (TCU v. Boise St.). I enjoyed it immensely, although James' dog Beau cuddled up on me & made me go to sleep for a good part of the 3rd qtr & the early part of the 4th. (enjoyed that immensely too!)

6. Just a small amount of Christmas shopping left today--stocking stuffers, & not many of them. I'm rather impressed with myself, though I did most of my shopping by proxy. Note carefully: I did decide on the gifts to be purchased!

7. There's not a good football game on today/tonight. Notre Dame v. Hawaii = 2 mules fighting over a turnip, to quote the late great Lewis Grizzard. My only connection to this game is the hope that Notre Dame keeps their bowl streak alive. That's a losing streak, dating back years & years. Favorite stat: 85 teams have won a bowl game since Notre Dame has! Is this a great country, or what? ; )

8. I'm going to spend considerable time staring at my Christmas tree today. And remembering. I won't reach for a forced, strained religious imagery here; to me the decorated Christmas tree emphasizes the family part of the holiday.

9. I'm not offended when someone wishes me "Happy Holidays." I trust they're not offended when I wish them "Merry Christmas."

10. I thinking of continuing my home-office throwaway-fest. Badly needed. Of course, staring at the Christmas tree & napping with the dogs is pretty badly needed as well...

11. Yikes! Just noticed a couple of Christmas decs that are not yet put up! I'll fix that after another cup of coffee.

12. I'm not very happy with Lisa's presents. (to be precise: with the presents we have for her) She never wants much at all, which, ironically, makes it more difficult to buy for her.

13. Was just pondering the long, long journey we've been on since this time last year. Jerry Garcia said it best: "what a long, strange trip it's been..." Here's hoping for a boring year next year!

I have a full-on Christmas entry percolating, but just in case I don't get to that in time, MERRY CHRISTMAS! He was, He came, He lived, He taught, He died, He was raised, He left, and He's coming back! Maranatha!

Because of Christmas...and Easter,

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Horror of Christmas...

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:3-17

(back to bb)
An amazing passage. Note the clear connection between Christ's emptying of Himself and the application to us. I find this passage incredibly challenging and humbling. The "Therefore" connects His "making Himself nothing" ("emptying Himself" in another translation) with how we should be because of his emptying & God's exaltation of Him.

Ponder that phrase: made Himself nothing.

Imagine the throneroom of heaven, with Jesus Christ in all of His glory seated at the right hand of His Father, being celebrated by the angels and the patriarchs from Old Testament days. And then, it happens...He stands up, removes His crown, takes off His robe, looks around one more time, looks His Father in the eye, and begins descending...all the way to a woman's womb.

For 33 or so years of earth time, the throne at the right hand of the Father is empty.

It gets worse.

At the end of those 33 years, He is separated from His Father by a greater distance than that from heaven's throneroom to the middle east. There, on a cross in a hill, God the Son is tortured to death by some of those whose hopeless estate prompted His leaving the throneroom in the first place. "My God, My God,...why have You forgotten me?!" The very essence of "made Himself nothing." Separation beyond any we can imagine. My sins...your sins...the sins of all humanity...our own hopeless estate....That is what caused the godhead to be separated first by the amazine distance between heaven's throneroom and earth, and then by the far, far greater distance between total holiness & perfection and complete sinfulness & depravity.

"For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
2 Cor 5:21

And there, ladies & gents, is the horror of the Christmas story. And its great glory. The angels sang...the shepherds marveled...Mary pondered & treasured...and Jesus was born. Under a shadow. Not just of candlelight flickering on a cave wall, but the shadow of a cross. And a grave. Born to die.

But now...His tomb is empty. His seat there in the celestial throneroom is occupied once again. The next time He leaves, He will come in triumphant, eternal victory.

The question of the season seems to be so what? Why should we, or anyone, care about all of this?

Paul gives an answer in the latter part of the passage from Philippians 2. Therefore... To conclude, how's your "therefore" doing? Need to tune up your "do nothing from rivalry or conceit"? How about your "looking to the interest of others"? What about your worship? (not just at a church Christmas musical...but your worship!) And that "grumbling & complaining"?

Some great news: it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. You & I don't have to grit our teeth, & bow up to get this done. Which is good news, as it turns out...because we can't bow up, grit our teeth, & get it done. Again, it is God who works in you...

As I say, it is a terribly convicting & challenging passage. And it absolutely is what the horror and the glory of Christmas is all about. As Christmas approaches, let the awesome wonder--and horror--of Philippians 2 soak into your soul. And let God work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure...


Sunday, December 14, 2008

After 34 years...(long, heartfelt post alert!)

After 34 years...

I miss his laugh. He had a great sense of humor.

I miss talking Bama football with him. He never went to college, but was all Crimson & White in his loyalties. He took me to my first-ever bowl game in the rain in New Orleans. Alabama (naturally!) v. Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Bear Bryant called it the best game he ever saw. It's certainly one of my faves too, but for different reasons...

I miss traveling with him. All 50 states...Canado...Mexico...Bahamas...England...France…Holland...Belgium...Germany...Italy...Switzerland.

I miss camping with him. On the long trips to AK & CA, but also the mini-trips over the weekend or during the week in the summer to Rocky Bayou & Ft. Pickens & Grayton Beach.

I miss hunting & fishing with him. We were never very good, but we caught & killed a few.

I miss throwing a football & a baseball & hitting a tennis ball & playing ping pong with him. I don't recall ever beating him in pong, now that I think of it...Also, I recall that he never hit a backhand in tennis; he’d switch the racket to his left hand & always hit a forehand.

I miss breakfast & supper with him. Because his wife & kids were so important to him, we ate as many meals together as possible. I also miss the pre-fishing breakfasts at Joe & Eddie's, & the Saturday morning Krispy Kreme runs, & the occasional summer-day lunch at McDonald's or Burger King.

I miss watching the nightly news with him & listening to his wise commentary. There are those in our culture who arrogantly say that only the well-educated are wise. They are wrong about other things too.

I miss hanging out after school at Madaris Printing & Office Supplies & asking a million questions. He always answered them. I have been a business school professor off & on for over 20 years now, perhaps because of becoming fascinated with business things years ago as a kid in the business he founded & ran so very well.

I miss going to church with him. We went often, and it very clearly (to all who knew him) meant something to him. I also miss him serving me the Lord's supper and keeping the 3-year-old nursery. Because I’m his son, I started going to church 9 months before I was born, for which I am so very grateful.

I miss his singing. Mostly Hank Williams (Senior, of course), with some Roy Acuff & some gospel thrown in, along with some hymns. (“In the Garden” was a favorite of his, as I recall) I still love Hank, and not just because he was great. I'll never hear Hank (or anyone else, for that matter) sing "Heeeeeey, Good Lookin'...Whaaaaaat You Got Cookin?" without seeing him sing it to my Mom in the kitchen in the morning with that great smile on his face & twinkle in his eye. Steel guitars? Love ‘em; especially the ones backing up Hank on “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

I miss him holding hands with my Mom. Which he did frequently. (She misses it too! I so thankful that Leo also holds hands with her in public.)

I miss the feel of his 5:00 shadow when he would hug me. Which he also did frequently. Because of his physical affection, I totally & completely reject the bogus lie from hell that “real men don’t show affection.” Dad was a country boy who enjoyed hunting & fishing & who was a veteran of the tail end of WW2. And he hugged all the time. I do too, with apologies to nobody. If me hugging my son or a friend offends your masculinity, then yours is a false, bogus, immature, incomplete masculinity.

I miss him making fun of how we danced at school dances. “Y’all call that dancing? Y’all don’t know how to dance…”

I miss going to the beach with him. He loved the white sandy beaches of NW FL as I do.

I miss him cooking burgers & manning the concession stand for our high-school football games.

I miss the bright green jacket he always wore to do the above (our school colors were green & white). He was buried in that jacket.

I miss him picking out songs--correctly--on the piano, despite having no musical training & not being able to read music. What a great ear for music he had!

I miss how he loved & helped his widowed mother & his widowed sisters.

Oddly enough, as painfully as I miss all of these things, it is perhaps things undone that I miss the most. Things that will never be done this side of glory. Some of which--praise God--won't have to be done there in the land of the eternal dawn...
--him taking pictures of my prom date & me--receiving his congratulations on graduating from HS/college/grad school
--rejoicing with him over being admitted to college/grad school
--hearing him say "you played well" after a HS jazz band concert
--sharing the steps of my call to ministry & to part-time missions with him
--introducing Lisa Mixon to him...and later telling him that she's the one for me.
--helping each other with our tuxes at my wedding
--calling him & saying, "Dad, you have a grandson named James after you...Lisa's doing great!" (He really would’ve cried at that one)
--him helping me move & buy a house, & then visiting us there often
--calling him & saying "Dad, you have a granddaughter named Rebecca Anne...Lisa's doing great!"
--being greeted by him with a hug when I come home to visit
--going to Alabama games with him
--going to Ole Miss games with him proudly wearing his "Ole Miss Granddad" or his “Ole Miss Pharmacy” shirt next to me wearing my “Ole Miss Dad” shirt.
--sitting on his back porch--or mine--together and wordlessly watching the dawn & the sunset

Basically, I miss his affirming me and his welcoming me as a man. I miss those terribly, and need them greatly. All of us little boys need that affirmation & welcoming.

And I deeply miss getting the chance to tell him "Goodbye..."

If you’re wondering, after 34 years I still don’t have a very good answer to the big “why?” question. I’m pretty sure I won’t get that answer this side of glory. I’m OK with that, but I still wonder. Especially on this day.

After 34 years, the wound is still just barely...barely...short of being too great to bear. But the Bible says "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones." C. S. Lewis said that if we knew what God knows about death, we would clap our hands with joy at the passing of a believer. And I do...most of the time.

But today, on the 34th anniversary of his death, I am very nearly overcome with the synergistic pains of loss, memory, and longing. Also with the awareness of how very far I am from living up to the very high example he lived before me for 15 1/2 years.

I'll be OK. Truly, I will. But not just now. Just now, I remember. And long for that which cannot ever be. The affirmation and affection of a father. I'm pretty sure he would affirm, for he always did. But I'd still give up much that I have ever had to actually hear him do so. And for another hug & smile & "I'm proud of you, son."

One day, he'll again smile that smile that made the ladies of Lowndes County, AL (& one in particular from Coffee County, AL) go weak at the knees. He'll hug me and say, "Welcome home, son...It's great to see you." And together, we'll celebrate at the party to end all parties (literally!). And...thank God!...I will never have to say “goodbye” or “I miss you” again.

For now, though, Bye Dad. I still remember. Always will. Thanks! Merry Christmas!

With more love than I can fully capture,

Friday, December 12, 2008


There are echoes. Do you hear them?

They are always faint...but sometimes they are less so.

Christmas is such a time. The echoes seem to break through quite often this season. They are heard in the music. They are seen in the lights. They are heard in laughter of family around tables piled with mounds of food. They are heard in the stillness of the night and in the silence of the early morning. They can be heard in worship services. And in the quiet desolation of the cemetery. They are heard in the joy of young children. And in the loneliness of old children.

I hear them in all of these settings. Especially this time of year.

What are these echoes? They are several things. But they point ultimately to one thing...

They are the sounds of days gone by. Cherished days, fondly remembered. They are the sounds of tears shed at partings, some temporary, some permanent (at least in this life). They are the memories of love discovered. Of Family. Parents. Grandparents. Children. Friends. Holidays. Camping trips. Vacations. Songs sung. Jokes told. Words spoken. And those wistful "things I wish I'd said," as Rodney Crowell sang a few years back.

There are other echoes too. Echoes of longing. And of longings realized. And satisfied. Of redemption when it was new and fresh. Of forgiveness. Of the amazing grace we sing about so often.

In all of these, though, there are still other echoes. Of darkness. Shortcomings. Failures. Sins. Desperation. Hopelessness, or so it seemed. These are terribly painful to recall. So painful that one of the most treasured things is that promise so long ago that "their sins I will remember no more." What a promise!

It is there, that we hear the faintest and most foundational echo. So faint that it is rarely heard, and even more rarely comprehended. This faintest of echoes goes beyond our times...beyond our shortcomings & sins...beyond even that first Christmas. It goes farther back than the patriarchs and prophets, even.

It is the oh-so-faint echo of a garden long ago. A world unstained by pain...sin...loss...death. A garden in which man spoke with God face to face without fear, unmarred by sins (his own or those of mankind at large). This echo is so faint that we almost doubt that it exists. And yet, there it is, inescapable. Especially this time of year.

This echo rings in cries for justice in the face of injustice. It rings in cries for mercy. Those garden echoes and how we respond to them are foundational to our worldview.

Without that garden, we'd have no longing for its restoration. Without the sin we inherited from there--and then lived up to...or rather, down to...in our own right--we'd have no need of redemption. Without this faintest of echoes, there would be no Christmas, for there would've been no need for it.

There are echoes. Do you hear them?


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas Songs Everyone Needs to Hear...

Ok, I admit it. I'm a Christmas goober. I love this season! Pretty much everything about it. (well, not so much the materialistic arms-race approach to buying & gatherings that so seem to have...but that's not what this post is about) I love the decorations: wreaths, lights, stockings, mistletoe, candles, Christmas trees...all of it. I love the family aspects in particular; as I write, James is about to head home from Oxford for a long (& well-deserved!) Christmas break. I can't wait! Anne & I will soon have a lunch @ either Red Lobster, Suwanna's, Rio Grande, or Crescent City Grill. Can't wait for that either! I love the friend aspects; catching up w/ former students over coffee, lunch w/ buddies,...And I hope it's obvious to my regular reader (smile) that I love the faith aspects. Watch this space for more on that.

But as I was just doing a bit of cleaning, I was listening to a very nice jazz guitar Christmas CD (Larry Carlton - Christmas at My House...highly recommended for chilled out Christmas music lovers...). In fact, I've been keeping the ipod hopping w/ Christmas music this week. This got me pondering my favorite Christmas music. Here goes...


Bethlehem Morning - The version I have is by Sandi Patti. This one makes, um, my allergies act up *sheepish grin* 100% of the time. This one makes me wish I had been sitting next to the author when he woke up that one morning in Israel & looked @ the sunrise over Bethlehem...

The Way He Came (Truth) - My allergies seem to act up frequently in this one too..."Just to think such royalty would come the way He came...no crowds, no throngs, no big parades..."

Christmas is All in the Heart (Steven Curtis Chapman) - ditto the allergies thing. Remembers Christmases past when he was a "little blond-headed dreamer", and carries that on to "Now I've my own little blond-headed dreamers..." Throat-filling material for me

Merry Christmas With Love (Sandi Patti) - Now this one is guaranteed to cause severe hay fever attacks...Christmas through the eyes of a senior adult lady who is alone at Christmas until her friends come caroling at her door. (dang...just writing that brought on an allergic reaction...)

I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm & Baby, It's Cold Outside - The one I have is Dean Martin singing; the CD is "Christmas w/ the Rat Pack;" the whole CD is great!

White Christmas (Bing Crosby, of course) - The biggest selling song (not just Christmas song btw) of all time, with good reason. Although, I've always said that it was written by someone who had never lived in snow...*smile* Snow's pretty & a lot of fun for about a half-hour; the rest of the time, it's a hassle. Still though, I do love this song.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Chick Corea's Elektric Band) - A smokin'-hot fusion jazz version that is awesome.

Little Drummer Boy (Whiteheart) - A very nice hard rock-ish take on this song.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel - by anybody; the versions I listen to the most are those by Margaret Becker or by Selah. Slow & soulful, as this song was meant to be sung.

Carol of the Bells (David Benoit) - a very nice jazz piano rendition of this one. Aside: I also like Steven Curtis Chapman's fast acoustic guitar rendition.

Joseph's Lullaby (Mercy Me) - interesting idea to examine the most unexamined character in the Christmas story.

The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole) - great performance by one of the great singers

Silver Bells (Dean Martin)

I'll Be Home for Christmas (Frank Sinatra) - possibly the saddest Christmas song; I remember that 1st Christmas when a job kept me in Tuscaloosa all by my lonesome. This song clicked pretty good w/ me that time...

O Come, All Ye Faithful - the version I love is done by 3 ladies on a hammered dulcimer, a harp, and a flute. The result is great!

Once Upon a Christmas (Selah, with Dolly Parton) - this is a song Dolly wrote, and she sits in w/ Selah. Love it!

Every Valley Shall Be Exalted - The version I love is the jumpin' funk version by Larnelle Harris, one of the great singers around. It's on "Handel's New Young Messiah" and gets heavy airplay @ casa beach bum.

Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs - again, Handel's New Young Messiah. This one is sung by Steve Green, Larnelle Harris, and Michael English. With those three teaming up, it is incredible.

(Note: the previous two Handel songs are not necessarily Christmas songs, but that's when they get played the most.)

Diana Krall's Christmas CD
Christmas w/ the Rat Pack
Nat King Cole's Christmas CD
Steven Curtis Chapman's Christmas CD
Young Messiah
Soulful Messiah
Sandi Patti's Christmas CD
Larry Carlton - Christmas at My House (aforementioned jazz guitar...very pleasant!)

There are others, but that's a good start at pondering some Christmas songs & albums everyone needs to hear. (My ipod has something like 350 Christmas songs on it...a sure signal of Christmas goober-hood!)

What are you listening to this season?

Sunday, December 07, 2008


I utterly forgot to update this blog about my trip to Houston! A thousand pardons!

Test results were good. I had a P.E.T. scan, 3 different CT scans, a chest xray, and bloodwork. Good results, as I say.

In addition, we hit all of the good eateries, which is an all-too-important part of the trip.... (a) Gringo's Tex-Mex...(b) Dimassi's Mediterranean Buffett...(c) our new find, the donut shop near Friendswood run by a Vietnamese family. (Is it bad that our trips are judged by the eateries visited? Oh well...)

My Monday out there was zero fun sir! No breakfast...no coffee...no lunch...all of those tests/scans...But oh man, was Gringo's good that night! *smile*

A rather nice visit w/ Dr. Homsi.... I realized that this was my first visit there with me as a pretty healthy guy. On all of the previous (many) visits, I've had cancer, or (early) we didn't know what it was. This one, well, it approached routine in terms of my health...

Anyway, so very sorry to leave my regular reader hanging...*grin*

Thanks for your prayers!!

p.s. - Roll Tide anyway! My love of my Crimson Tide football team is not dependent on a particular game's (or season's) outcome. The better team won yesterday, although it was certainly not the cakewalk almost everyone predicted. At any rate, I am proud of my team. 12-1 & Sugar Bowl bound is not too shabby...Bama graduates a grand total of 9 seniors off of this team. Recruiting is going well. The future is bright for us Crimson Tide types! (with all of that said, I wore Crimson when we lost 6 Iron Bowls in a row...and 5 in a row to LSU...and several in a row to Tennessee...and when we had losing records for the season. I did not switch allegiance to some other team who was winning more; fans don't do that. Congrats to the Gators, and Roll Tide!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Some wants I've been pondering...

...these are in no particular order of significance. They are in the order of "Mike's random mind processes came up w/ them this way"...)

I want to go to seminary.
I want to go to Vietnam & India & China.
I want to write a book.
I want to surprise my wife with a car one Christmas morning.
I want to replace the windows in my house.
I want to tear down & rebuild the deck at my house.
I want to complete the Chartered Financial Analyst certification.
I want to publish more academic articles.
I want to learn Polish. Or perhaps Russian.
I want to spend a month on an island in the Carribean with my family.
I want to take my family to Alaska.
I want to take my family to New York City and more broadly to New England.
I want to achieve tenure at a university. And be promoted to associate professor.
I want to take some WCU students overseas on study trips.
I want to see my children and my nieces & nephews succeed and become contributing members of society.
I want to impact the world...my world...for Christ.
I want to finish well.


Monday, December 01, 2008

If all the universe and everything in it exists by the design of an infinite, personal God,
to make his manifold glory known
and loved,then to treat any subject
without reference to God's glory
is not scholarship but insurrection.
—John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory, p. 43.

(back to Mike)
And there, ladies & gents, is why we who claim to be followers of Christ must give some serious thought & prayer to the totality of our lives.

Our jobs...our family life...our hobbies...our travels...our finances...to do otherwise is, well, insurrection, to use Piper's well-placed word.

Let us not be guilty of insurrection this week!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful for the Storms...

See that picture? *points up* That's taken from Mom's back yard, looking almost due south. The beaches of Ft. Walton Beach are faintly available past all of the boathouses on the Bay. See those nasty clouds rolling in? When that storm hit, it was hard to see anything. A very loud frog-strangler. Ugly and dangerous.

But here's the thing: the storm & those clouds did not change the breathtaking beauty of Ft. Walton Beach and of the view from Mom's back yard. It obscured the view & veiled the beauty for a season, but it didn't...it couldn't...change them.

That is what I'm thankful for this year most of all.

When a huge, nasty storm comes--like, say, stage 4 cancer--it seems that the core essence of the world and--dare I say it?--of God Himself have changed. Become malevolent. Gone away, even.

Ever feel like that? Well, I bring you good news: major life storms--like, say, stage 4 cancer--do not change God and His relationship with the world. With us. With me. Sure, His beauty and glory and grandeur and love and all may seem veiled...but they most assuredly are there.

I recently heard these words coming out of my mouth: "I'm so thankful for this year and for cancer..." In a flash, I thought I had gone nuts. In that same flash, I realized that I hadn't (well, not based on that anyway...; )...) I am grateful for this year, and even for cancer.

Look back at the photo. When storms like that come, don't they make you long for the view as you know it is? Don't they make the mental image of the view you know is there come more clearly into focus? And, oh my...don't they make you appreciate the sunny, storm-free days? That view from Mom's backyard is one of my favorite places on the planet. I'd love to have a dollar for every minute I've spent just sitting there out back and enjoying the vista and thinking. Storms like the one in the picture...or like stage 4 cancer...make me appreciate the view all the more.

I also heard these words coming out of my mouth recently: "I've never felt the presence of Jehovah Shammah--the Lord Who is Present--as I did in the room there in M.D. Anderson's ICU." So, yeah...I'm thankful for the blinding, dangerous, nasty storm of cancer. For because of it, I see the essence...the goodness...of my Lord more than ever before. (I'd have been delighted to have seen that goodness and experienced that tender presence through other means than cancer, surgery, & immunotherapy, of course...but I'm not a good enough writer to fully capture how much I treasure what the Lord taught me and showed me this past summer.)

I hope I'll never be the same again. Pray with me to that end, won't you?

Digging the storms,

p.s. - some other more tangible things I'm oh-so-grateful for this year: my wife. my children. my extended family. my friends. my absent friends & family who have experienced the ultimate healing. (J--save me a cup of coffee up there, will ya?), my church. the church (capital C...the entire Body of Christ). my job. my boss. my co-workers. my students (many of whom become my friends). the ability to read. technology that helps me reconnect with friends and make new ones. speaking opportunities that allow me to share some of the veiled goodness of my Lord...

p.p.s. - Some things & people for which I'm thankful that warrant their own list: my amazing Drs.:
Robbins (family practice...a friend & fellow church member besides being my primary care Dr.)
Bellare (oncology - H'burg...a friend for years before becoming my Dr.)
Morrow (cardiology - Mobile...my cousin & friend besides being my Dr.)
Homsi & Hwu (medical melanoma - M.D. Anderson)
Kim (medical thoracic - MDA; recommended & arranged VATS)
Mehran (thoracic surgery - MDA)
medical technology - VATS, ct scans, P.E.T. scans, needle biopsy (ok...that one's the most difficult to be thankful for...), bloodwork. IVs, immunotherapy,...

p.p.p.s. - My pilgrim name is Bartholomew Alden, which is a pretty cool name! ; ) What's yours?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


A wife & daughter laugh @ their husband/Dad for his loud ringtone when his phone rings. Then he gets the last laugh when the caller is the daughter’s husband who has tried to call her 3 times. She didn’t know her phone was on silent…

The fish in the nearby tank recognize the guy who feeds them and swarm up to one side of the tank & to the top when he shows up to feed them. Not a small number of folks watch and smile. Then they just watch the fish swim around & eat after he leaves.

A 40-ish lady works through her Sudoku book.

A lady in her mid-20s makes necklaces & bracelets while waiting on her husband.

Two senior adult guys discuss their respective Navy service—one a career, the other a hitch—all prompted by one of the guys’ “Retired Navy” hat. The entire, wonderful conversation starts with “what year?” (meaning “what you did you retire)

The guy in the Navy hat chats with another senior adult guy of a different race. This other guy is wearing a “Tuskegee Airmen” shirt. The Navy hat guy offers his hand and says “I know several of the Airmen; let me shake your hand, sir.” (Aside: we’re constantly told that folks down here are still hard-core racists. Occurrences like the one describe here are not surprising to us natives; neither are they very well reported. Stereotypes die hard, I suppose…and can apparently still be used to justify column inches…)

A 60-ish grandma-looking lady knits. (aside: Is knitting a lost art? It sure seems so…)

These 2 little girls laugh & have a great time putting a puzzle together. They giggle, share jokes & snide comments, and fuss at each other’s puzzle-assembling skills. The younger of the 2 little girls is 18. The other one is her Mother. Both are dearly loved by and related to me.

All of these events happen in the CT Imaging waiting area of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Every person here would rather be somewhere else. Everyone walking through the doors to get a CT scan is in some stage of cancer diagnosis/treatment. Everyone left in the waiting area loves someone who walks through those doors. There is a huge, largely-unmentioned fear in this room that we all try to deny in hopes that it will go away. But it never does so. Not completely, anyway.

The diversions noted above help…For a few moments, one’s thoughts are focused elsewhere than on medical test results. Or on the prognosis for the future. Or on memories from the last time. Or on the vivid reality of a loved one who is back behind those doors and all that the test results could entail.

Diversions. We all thank God for them in a place like this. And He graciously grants them...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Live from the CT Imaging waiting area @ M.D. Anderson...

Today's schedule:
10:30 - P.E.T. scan prep
11:00 - P.E.T. injection & localization (IV outlet insertion)
12:30 - P.E.T. scan
2:15 - Blood specimen collection
3:30 - Prep for CT scan
5:00 - CT scan of chest, abdomen, & pelvis
6:00 - chest xray
7:30 - serious gluttony at the first restaurant that strikes my ever-decreasing fancy.

(ok, that last one's not on my official MDA schedule...)

Wanna know what is not on my schedule today?
1. coffee
2. breakfast
3. lunch

Thus, some restaurant in the greater Houston metro area will regret not charging more for their food later today. *smile*

I've watched people eat today; I'm here to tell you, ladies & gents, that doesn't even come close to actually eating!

This is all disturbingly familiar & routine by now. Get IV put in; get nuclear waste injected into IV. Sleep for an hour. Go to P.E.T. scan room & get strapped on to the board. Go to sleep during scan. Wake self up repeatedly with snores. (not mine, of course...I'm not sure who else was snoring in that room, as I'm the only one I saw in the room. Curious...) Fantasize about eating & about drinking coffee. Ride up to CT Imaging. Get excited about being early; then realize that being early matters not very much. Remember how nasty the contrast solution is and get bummed about drinking 2 bottles of it (this is where I am right now...). Remember the 3rd method of delivering contrast solution besides drinking & IV and get REALLY bummed. Fantasize about eating. Remember that there's a Starbucks over in the other clinic and wonder what the largest cup they have is. Then wonder if they offer those cardboard things that allow one to carry multiple cups. Then realize this won't be necessary...in fact, a lid for my coffees later will also probably not be necessary...Get chest xrays. Realize that rush hour here starts at about 4:30 and continues for the next 3-4 hours...Remember that nights like this one while awaiting hugely significant medical results are the ones where the clock seems to downshift into s-l-o-w mode, and sleep does not come easily...

On the plus side, (a) tonight's meal will be the greatest meal I've ever eaten; (b) tomorrow's coffee & the dozens of donuts & several kolaches will be the greatest breakfast I've ever eaten; (c) tomorrow only involves 1 appt., and I don't have to change clothes nor get stuck as part of it; (d) my beloved Lisa and our beloved daughter Anne are both here with me; (e) my God is still firmly sitting on His throne, presiding over the workings of the universe. And of M.D. Anderson. And of Mike Madaris.

Your prayers are welcome for
--correct & totally accurate test results...
--that show no trace of cancer
--peace for all 4 of us
--God to be glorified & magnified through this journey.
--safe travel back home tomorrow

Thanks much!

p.s. - is it bad that I'm already fantasizing about tomorrow's lunch & supper? *smile*

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mike's Redneck Medical Dictionary

I know you’re wondering what the current dizzying array of medical terms these days mean; based on recent experience, I’m here to answer questions via the following guide. Without further ado, here’s “Mike’s Redneck Guide to Current Medical Terminology” v. 1.0. I’m hoping I never need to publish a version 2…

“CT Scan” – “CT” stands for “costs tons”

“P.E.T. Scan” – stands for “pretty expensive too” or “progressively [more] expensive test” (compared to C.T.); sometimes means “pretty expensive & toxic” because of the stuff that accompanies the P.E.T. scan.

(note: I’ll be having both of those next week on my return to M.D. Anderson for followup tests)

“Clinic” – from the Greek word that means “sounds innocuous enough, but we do some remarkable—and remarkably expensive—things in here now, some of which are quite painful”

“Contrast Solution” – “contrast solution” (consumed before some CT Scans) actually comes from a Swahili phrase that means “your dog that drinks toilet water wouldn’t drink this, but you have to”

“I.V.” – a re-casting of the Yiddish phrase “oy vay” which translates roughly as “Oh My!” or the redneck version “hey, check this out!”; this is stated when the person doing the sticking, well, misses what s/he’s aiming for and your elbow swells up like a water balloon

“M.R.I.” – stands for “man…really intense!”; especially accurate when describing an MRI of the brain. If you ever need one of these and you have any hint of claustrophobia, go ahead & ask for lots of sedation up front; you’ll need it.

“a little stick” – means “I’m gonna shove this large and sharp piece of PVC pipe into your skin, but don’t worry; it won’t hurt me a bit”

“needle biopsy” – describes a procedure in which a hollowed out metal baseball bat is sharpened on one end and stabbed into one’s body so that another, longer piece (known laughingly as “the needle”) can be inserted through the baseball bat to dig out large quantities of…tissue (yeah, that’s it…). The Dr. frequently says something like “Anesthesia? We don’t need no stinkin’ anesthesia…well, I don’t; you prolly wish I’d give you some just now…but you can’t have any because you have to be able to respond to commands while I’m turning your lungs inside out…”

“deductible” – a paradox; paying the deductible means that the billing agent can now add even more to your tab

“co-pay” – this is something to provide the underpaid check-in clerk with a quick giggle as s/he says to herself/himself: “this fool thinks this small payment will significantly affect his/her bill…I just hope I don’t snort-laugh when I turn away to photocopy something so I can chuckle…”

“UCC” – widely and erroneously believed to mean “usual and customary charges”; in fact, it stands for “you can’t see” which has the double entendre of “we not really telling you how much this costs,” combined with “you have no idea how to get from here to ‘paid in full’…”

“VATS” – “very astronomically & totally ‘spensive” or “vast anesthesia that [word meaning "this is very bad"]”; sometimes means “vast anesthesia two-week sickness” because that’s how long it takes to begin to recover & feel normal after the procedure.

“IL-2” – stands for “I laughed too” which is short for “I laughed too, when they told me this wouldn’t be so bad”; that sentence is spoken by an IL-2 survivor. Sometimes stands for “in {the} light too?” which is when the dosage is stopped; i.e., “is s/he about to croak? Well, then, better stop the dosage…”

“Labs” – “look at {the} blood sucker” or “L and blood stops” which means from the Latin “100 sticks & we’ll knock off the sticking process for a few hours…”

“ICU” – usually taken to mean “intensive care unit,” which is actually the result of a spelling error; the correct phrase is “expensive care unit.” Can also mean “I can’t [word meaning “go potty” that starts w/ a U]” which is said by the ICU patient when s/he realizes that it’s physically impossible to make it the 7-foot distance from the bed to the potty because of the dozens of wires, IVs, monitors & such that are apparently designed to prevent the patient from escaping. Or traversing the dangerous 7-foot journey from bed to potty.
ICU can also mean “I’m colicky tU” since anyone (Lisa) staying in the room with the ICU patient will get about as much rest as the mother of an infant with colic.

“Clear Liquid Diet” – prescribed to many ICU and IL-2 patients; the meaning is “might as well drink water, Hoss, because that’s about as much taste as you’ll find on this menu…”

“Discharge” – a misleading term that gives false hope along the lines of “you’re about to leave”; in fact, “discharge” means “tell your spouse to head on down stairs & pick up a copy of the Sunday paper along with a meal, because you’ll have plenty of time to read the entire paper from cover to cover—including want ads—before this process actually results in you leaving this room…”

“Anesthesia” – drug combinations administered for the purpose of sedating the patient right away for surgery; also has the (apparent) purpose of destroying his/her sleep patterns & normal body functions for the next 2-3 weeks.

“Recovery” – a warehouse-like facility in which patients who have just had surgery are placed like so many cases of Christmas cards awaiting the official beginning of the season.

“Automatic BP cuff” – a device attached to the patient’s room in ICU that is designed to keep the patient from ever entering R.E.M.-cycle sleep; the device is very effective at its purpose because about every 10 minutes, it squeezes the upper arm of the patient such that the only substance between the cuff and the bone is the patient’s skin and a few flattened blood vessels & arteries. Every ounce of muscle tissue & fat are squeezed up toward the patient’s shoulder and down toward the fingers. The patient should lie very still while this is going on, or else the BP cuff becomes angry & squeezes harder a second time. Also, there’s the risk of actually blowing the ends of the patient’s fingers off, but this is a very rare occurrence.

“Pulse Ox Monitor” – attached to one of the patient’s fingers for the purpose of rendering that particular finger, along with the hand whence it comes utterly un-useable.

I hope this clears up some of your questions about various medical terms. Now you can speak intelligently with your friends & loved ones about things medical.

You’re welcome for this clear explanation. *grins*


p.s. - if there are any additional medical terms you need clarified, hit me with a comment and I'll be happy to oblige. Much like the average alum of D1 football teams who watches a few games & thinks s/he's an expert at coaching, I am now an expert dicipherer of medical terms. There will be no charge for this additional clarification.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A short one today.

Today is Jason Weathers' birthday. He would be 34. I miss him hard. But my thoughts & emotions today do not even compare to those of Stephanie. Nor to those of their children. Nor those of Jon Mark & Petty, Jason's wonderful parents. Nor to those of Brad, Jason's brother.

Would you please pray for Stephanie today? She told Lisa and me yesterday that she's just ready for her heart to not hurt physically.

And would you also pray for Anna Lea, Jon Brent, & Ally? And for Jon Mark & Peggy? And for Brad?

And finally, would you treasure this day and treasure those in your life who make the days lighter and more pleasant? And would you live a life that is pleasing to God, in light of eternity?

Those are all great birthday presents to my absent friend, Jason.

Jason...bro...I cherish your friendship and your life. Thanks for leaving such a large wake in your 33 short years, and for making all of us in it long all the more for that glorious, eternal "what's up?" from you in the land where there will be no more goodbyes forever.

I love you, buddy. Happy Birthday! Rock on.

p.s. - on a related note, did you see the recent news article that for the first time they have sequenced the complete genetic development of acute myeloid leukemia from beginning to end? A news article like that would hardly registered to me a couple of years ago, as I was absent the day they taught science in school, and the disease didn't really register. Now, just ahead of Jason's 1st birthday in eternity after passing from complications due to AML, it thrilled my soul, and sparked fairly some fairly serious prayers on behalf of the researchers working on a cure. Join me there too, won't you? Maybe one day in the not-too-distant future, an AML diagnosis will be easily and decisively treatable, and will not leave any more young widows and children wondering why...There, ladies & gents, is a prayer worthy of being prayed often...

p.p.s. - If you're not already reading it, here's Stephanie's blog (click the word "blog" there).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Noble Idea

Once upon a time, this remarkable, forward-looking group of folks laid out an idea for a totally different kind of country with an unheard-of style of government. They were certainly not perfect men, and their noble idea has needed tweaking. They planned on that, setting up a government with foundational documents that had built-in means for changing things that needed changing.

"Government of the people..."

A friend from Iraq--that is, a native of Iraq--once told me that nobody in his country had begun to think at the level of those guys with their noble idea. He said that we Americans take voting and our overall form of government so very much for granted. He was right!

"...by the people..."

Think of what happened last Tuesday, leading up to next January. We the people went to the polls and, as a group of self-governing folks, decided who we wanted for our next President. Yesterday, he and the outgoing president met in our President's oval office to talk about policies and transitional things.

"...for the people..."

There were no tanks rolling in the streets. There was no gunfire. There will be none next January when the new guy takes office. Afterward, the old guy will head back to his ranch in the southern part of our country and live...with life-long protection paid for by the new government. This is unheard of in most of the world.

But it was not easily purchased.

"...shall not perish from the earth."

Starting with Lexington & Concord and going on to Valley Forge and forward, men (& later, women) have laid their lives on the line and have paid with their very lives to ensure that the noble idea would survive. A 2nd war with England...a bloody, 4-year war with ourselves...a war with Spain...the first "war to end all wars"...then the 2nd such war...Korea...Vietnam...Kuwait...Afghanistan...Iraq...

War--and its occasional necessity--are clear & present evidence of what the Reformers called the "depravity" of man. War is terrible. A gold star in a window and a flag in a triangle-shaped box and a nice letter from a commander...and a commander-in-chief...are no replacement for the life lost. Wounds, both visible & obvious and invisible & less obvious, last a lifetime.

But sometimes, in this fallen world, war becomes necessary. To protect one's land and people. To defend a helpless neighbor/ally. And to keep the noble idea secure.

In a few hours, it will once again be the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The hour and day on which the shooting stopped in the first world war in 1918. Veterans' Day. This is their day. One could argue that every act of freedom is really their day, but today is their official day. Know a veteran? Tell him or her thanks. Dislike policies of the Bush administration? Find a veteran and thank him/her for securing the noble idea that allows change. Excited about President-elect Obama? Thank a veteran. Talk is cheap, especially mine. But the title of "veteran" is very expensive. Life-threatening at times.

For they are the ones who joined the long line of men (and later, women) who stood in the cold at Valley Forge...who stood against the Brits at Horseshoe Bend...who stared across the fields of Gettysburg and didn't flinch...who fought through the Argonne Forest in France...who island-hopped in the Pacific and assaulted Hitler's Fortress Europe, both against all hope...who stood freezing at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea...who trudged through the Mekong Delta and the central highlands of Vietnam or flew over its skies...who destroyed Saddam's army in the deserts of Kuwait & Iraq...who know the sound of IEDs in Mosul and Kandahar, and the cry of the Taliban warriors in Pakistan. All to secure an idea. That all men are created and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Talk is cheap. Protest is easy. Want to find courage? Go talk to a veteran. Like my brother. Or his wife. Or my new step-Dad, Leo. Or my father-in-law. Or my friends Bob, Lance, Mr. Bob, and others. And I'd ask that you take a moment to remember those no longer with us. Dad. Grandpa Charlie. My forebears who fought in the Civil War. Those who fought in the War of 1812...and those who have paid the ultimate price, laying the most costly sacrifice on the altar of freedom.

Run up to the small country cemetary north of Hattiesburg and see the final resting place of Roy Wheat. Read about him in the post office on 40th. Threw himself on a powerful land mine just prior to its explosion in order to save his buddies in the field there in Vietnam. A friend of mine went to school with Roy. Says he was a shy, quiet, very nice young man. Most heroes are unlikely like that.

Today, thank God for such men and women. Pray for families left behind. Thank God for that which they fought and died for. Say thanks. Remember. And live lives that demonstrate the validity of the idea.

"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you
and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always.

Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.
And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind."
Major Michael Davis O'Donnell
1 January 1970Dak To, Vietnam
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978

(note: there are more recent posters, but I really like this one)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Bride & the Bridegroom

She has fallen in love again. He has too.

Neither thought they ever would. Both have said the long goodbye as a spouse breathed their last. Pain very nearly too great to bear.

And yet...love sometimes blooms in the most unlikely of places. Among the most unlikely of people. As the groom said recently, God guides even the emotions, because neither of them would've imagined this! Love is risky, because it creates the possibilty of great pain and loss; both of them would say that it's worth it. Well worth it.

She is a servant. Always has been. A teacher. A librarian. A lover of words and books and education and children. A rock.

He is a gentleman. I 'spect he always has been, though I've not known him long. He is a warrior who flew fighter planes for the U.S. Air Force. 2 tours in Vietnam. He's a patriot. 40 years ago some protesters beat up some military recruiters on the campus where he went to college. His words to me: "That's not right! So I wrote the school off..." (Note: He's all in favor of free speech, having put his life on the line for it. He is not in favor of misplaced boorish punk idiocy disguised as free speech. Neither am I.) He's a man of integrity. Left his second career because of concerns that he was being pushed into unethical behavior.

Both of them have strong political views. Unlike the prevailing approach in America today though, they can express their views without anger and without mocking those who do not share their views. And they do not feel the need to express them nonstop. And further, they can be great friends with those of different political views, as opposed to the common American approach of hatred toward any--candidates or regular people--who disagree with one's political views. Mannerly civil discourse...what a concept! What a lost art...

They are great together, as couples in love should be. Looking to each other's needs. The bride has offended him a time or two...by opening her own door. He says that a gentleman always opens the door for a lady. (memo to the rest of us: he's right!). They are very comfortable knowing that the other was married before and has children. He said to the bride's adult son: "Around me you don't ever have to worry about bringing up your Dad. I'm not him and am not trying to be him. I'll never take his place, so don't think you have to hide him from me. I know he was a great guy and that your Mother loved him greatly." He also said, "if either of our spouses were still alive, we wouldn't be together."

The easy thing for people their age to do is to move in together and dispense with the formalities. Neither of them could do that. The bride said she couldn't look at her grandchildren and do that. The groom said he wasn't raised that way, and that they would be married in a church in front of a minister, "the way it's supposed to be."

And so, in just a couple of hours, the bride and the groom will approach the altar in their church in Ft. Walton Beach, FL and stand before a minister in a private ceremony. In the few minutes after that, the bride...my Mom...will become Mrs. Leo Hicks! I am so very happy for her. For them. And I am very grateful to both for continuing to model class...and dignity...and patriotism (not the knee-jerk kind, but real, thoughtful patriotism that loves this country even while recognizing its flaws and seeking to improve them)...and love...and genuine Christian faith.

Pray with me for the newlyweds, won't you?

I love you, Mom & Leo!! Have a great trip!


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Ends & Beginnings

I had my final classes Thursday & Friday. This means final exams are Monday & Tuesday. (Note: I join my students in saying a great big "aargh!" to final exams. Of course, to me they're just a hassle; to students, they're just a smidge more pressure-packed...; ) )

Thus, I'm in one of the best parts of my job and one of the worst.

Best: I get to ship some students out of my orbit into other classes/the real world.
Worst: I have to ship some students out of my orbit into other classes/the real world.

(I'll explain...)

Among the many uber-cool things about being a professor, one of the more awesome, wonderful aspects of the gig is connection with and interaction with students. As one who is called to ministry, I don't have to search very far before ministry arrives in my job. And since WCU is a small school, I get to connect beyond "were you really in my class?" Conversations with students this term have covered marriage, dating, life after marriage, kids, money management, politics/philosophy, voting, civil rights, church, career, grad school, professional certifications, hunting, the wedding ceremony itself, music,....You can't buy that sort of impact opportunity! I love it. Also, I really enjoy shipping folks out hopefully knowing a bit of finance & economics, and watching careers unfold for them. Maybe even helping with a job here & there.

On the other hand, and not surprising from the paragraph above, I get bummed when a students are set free from my orbit. That means the conversations become less frequent, and the interaction slips away. The "friend" aspect of student-professor interaction becomes the only one, which is nice. However, at the same time, that aspect drifts away as they're not around so much. My Dad was emotional & didn't like to leave; that gene came to me in spades. So, I do not enjoy the "leaving" aspect of the end of a term. One of my classes consisted almost entirely of students that were taking their 3rd class from me (bless their hearts...). *best Ron White delivery* "We've met." It's my hope and expectation that I'll still be in touch w/ some of that group years from now.

Plus, the week after this coming one, I'll have to start learning a new batch of names. There's something I'm not good at, to my great shame. Once I learn them, they stick, but they don't seem to get into the hard drive too rapidly. (I'm thinking my brain is still running DOS in a Vista/Mac world...)

On the other hand, when those new classes arrive in my room, I'll have yet another opportunity to connect with a batch of (mostly!) bright, energetic young folks. I love the "new start" aspect of the professor gig. In a trimester schedule like ours, I get to experience that new start 4 times a year!

I LOVE my job! That call to ministry thing? It was operational when I was in vocational ministry with Campus Crusade. And it is operational now as an econ/finance professor. I get to connect with folks who are in the process of nailing down 3 fairly significant life decisions: (a) who I want to spend the rest of my life with, (b) what I'll do for a living, and (c) the values by which I'll live. (Other than that, age 18-24 is not that big of a deal...*rimshot*) I'm delighted to be a small part of that process. And I'm delighted that James Madaris has some good ones in his path up there in Oxford. And I'm already praying for Anne Madaris to sit under some great, godly mentors next year.

Professors get a bad rap frequently, though I admit that the rap is often well-deserved. However, in the midst of all of the negative stuff about professors, there are so very many who sense a genuine calling to the profession to teach and mentor and equip young folks. And who approach the job out of a Christian commitment and worldview.

Pray for your kids/grandkids/friends/nieces/nephews to encounter some of those. It could be life-changing (for the good).

I'll close with this: know why I went to grad school in the first place? Two different undergrad professors encouraged me to do so. Know why I stayed for a Ph.D.? A professor in my master's program encouraged me to do so. Randy Pausch in his excellent "last lecture" before he died of cancer spoke of the sheer joy of helping others fulfill their childhood dreams. There are not many jobs that enable that very often; being a professor is one such job.

OK, I'm off to edit my final exams for next week...

Proverbs 9:10

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Unimaginable

UPDATE: I'm delighted to report that Bo is safe and sound as of earlier today. Don't know any more details, but I don't really need to. I'm just happy that this part of the story has a happy ending. Thanks for praying! bb

You know that part of our imaginations that walls off certain things and tries to keep them in the safety of "well, that'll probably never happen"? Those things that are just too terrible to even ponder? This post deals with one of those that's at the top of my list--of most of our lists--and then calls you to take action.

Got word yesterday that my friend Lee's son is missing. The son is Bo, and he hasn't been seen since his class Tuesday night. They're becoming frantic, as one would in this situation. When I hung around with Lee, Bo was just a little boy; now he's probably about 19 years old.

I cannot even imagine what Lee is experiencing just now. Whenever I venture toward that part of my imagination, I quickly recoil back in total terror. That recoiling protects my sanity, I think.

So here's your part: WOULD YOU PLEASE, PLEASE PRAY FOR LEE, FOR JULIE, AND FOR BO? I'll update as I'm able.

I wish...oh how I wish!...this were merely the premise for a CSI episode or for a scary movie. But it's not. It is the unimaginable, helpless reality a Mom and a Dad are facing right now.

Your prayers are most needed and appreciated.


Monday, October 27, 2008


So, we worshipped @ FBC of Ft. Walton Beach, FL Sunday while visiting Mom and meeting Leo.

Some other folks were there too...

Mr. Kossie Akins. His son Clint was my Royal Ambassador leader back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and Clint & I were much younger. Mr. Kossie is a veteran of WW2, which sets the stage for a really touching thing about him. Seems they had some training down in S. FL in the early 1940s as they prepared to go to war. While there, he & some of his buddies went to watch some pro baseball teams have Spring training, and had a blast doing so. After they came back from the war, they went again. And again. It became an annual reunion. Just some guys hanging out, watching baseball, and remembering. I LOVE that image! Now, Mr. Kossie is one of the oldest members of FBCFWB. His beloved wife passed away some years back. And there, Mr. Kossie was Sunday morning. I spoke & reintroduced myself, and he remembered. "Hi, Mike, it's been a long time..."

Lewie & Martha Tidwell. They have kids just older & just younger than my brother and me. Lewie was a banker, but to me back then...and maybe now...it was way cooler that he played church-league softball with us young folks. I'd love to have seen Mr. Lewie play when was a young man, because he was very good as a middle-aged man. A few years back, the Tidwells went out west with the North American Mission Board for a few years to help plant churches. I said, "how do you not ever get any older? You look just like you used to!" His great answer was "Cleeean living..."

Lewie and Martha pray for me every morning, and have been deeply burdened by my cancer situation. I managed to hold it together when he came by & shook my hand & asked after me yesterday. But just barely.

Brian Buckelew spoke. Big, strapping, muscular young man who lives in Nashville. A long way from the shortish little guy I knew back in the day. Brian's dad is a Dr. in FWB.

The Valentines. Their son Miles was in my HS class, and went on to play football @ LSU. (but he's a great guy anyway...*winks*) They, too, looked like they did 30+ years ago.

Libba Clark. Still greeting at the door. Every greeter should have a smile like hers and an east Alabama accent like hers. Her son Johnny is a year older than I, and is being used mightily by the Lord. In prison. As an inmate, which he'll be for the rest of his days. Mrs. Libba told my Mother once, "I always prayed that the Lord would use my children...I never dreamed that this is how He would say yes to that prayer..."

Dale Winslet. My age. Still a big, strapping guy. Dale was there by himself, just singing his heart out in praise. Like me, Dale didn't always sing those praise songs quite so loudly. But God's grace forgives, heals, calls, and restores. For which Dale & I are most grateful.

Nancy Hale. Still singing in the choir. Her Dad was the long-time, much-beloved pastor of FBCFWB who had a huge impact on me. (Which impact was not fully realized until after I had largely left his considerable orbit, but which I am so grateful for now). Her son used to be in my Sunday School class when he was in college. His wife was too (before they were husband and wife). They're very gifted singers & players & song writers. (Anyone from Temple B.C. remember Curt & Noel?) Now he's on staff at a large church up in the Jackson area, and is expecting a daughter tomorrow morning.

Mary Hailey. A servant-hearted widow. Much like this other servant-hearted widow I know in that church...from whom I'm descended. I had a great time of fellowship with Mrs. Hailey and her husband in their home back when we were on staff w/ Campus Crusade. Such encouragers.

Vicki Staples. Very talented organist. Always smiling. Her daughter was also in my Sunday School class in college days.

Wiley Burch. Usher extraordinaire. Every male usher should have a voice, a smile, and a handshake like Mr. Wiley. Both he and his wife have had health issues in recent years, but you'd be hard-pressed to know that. They lived in Hattiesburg for a while before moving back to FWB. So he always asks about Hattiesburg.

Benny Bowen. Retired elementary school principal, and my Mom's boss. One of those behind-the-scenes guys who is just always there, steady as a rock.

Gary Stanford. My cousin & one of my best friends growing up. Had a part in helping me come to know Christ and in helping me come to know Lisa. But other than that, he's not very important in my life...*huge grin* We roomed together @ Bama, which was huge in helping me get back on course academically, personally, and spiritually. Gary was in his usual place up in the bass section of the choir. He sings in the first service, then teaches youth Sunday School, then attends the second service because his 9th grader does so. Gary remains one of the steadiest, godliest, and all-around best guys that I know. That view is shared by many others. His son is a senior @ Bama, and his daughter is a freshman @ Florida.

Of course, my beloved aunts. Aunt Margaret & Aunt Frances, my Dad's sisters. Frances roomed with my Mom at Bama in something called "the co-op house." Students reduced their housing costs by living there because they had to do a lot of the work in cleaning & maintaining the place. Regrettably, Aunt Frances wasn't there Sunday morning. Chemotherapy takes one out of public circulation. Joyfully, she's finished w/ her chemo and will be back in church in 2 weeks. More joyfully, she came over to Mom's to see us Sunday afternoon. Still smiling, laughing Aunt Frances, despite her own medically-hellacious summer of cancer treatments. Aunt Margaret invited me to speak to her Sunday School class yesterday morning. What a great joy it was to speak to a group who have been praying for me in their private prayer lives and as a group! I think I only choked up twice, which is pretty good for me given the setting...

Aunt Frances & Aunt Margaret spent a fair amount of time trying to keep my brother & me out of trouble when we were young. With some success...but not with total success. And, of course, we shouldn't have stayed out of trouble, knotheads that we were... Both of them were widowed young (Hodgkins' Disease and heart attack). And both a very strong, sturdy lighthouses, pointing the way home for me and for so many others. May my faith and joy be just a hint of theirs.

It was such a privilege to be around these (and others) who prayed for me, taught me, loved me, and occasionally disciplined me. My manifest faults are of my own doing. But if you see any good in me, now you know where it comes from. My Lord providentially landed me among a group of excellent saints at Ft. Walton Beach, FL when I was one. Now that I am 4(garbled) years old, it is not a stretch to say that those people and that church were/are huge parts of shaping me. As one lady said after I spoke to Aunt Margaret's class, "what you shared goes back far beyond this past summer..." I totally agree. Any truths shared were first taught by word and by deed there in the hallways and from the pulpit of FBCFWB.

And I will always be grateful for that shaping and for those marvelous saints of the Lord who invested in a hammerhead like myself back when it seemed the investment would never pay off. Maybe...just maybe...opportunities like Sunday morning's speaking help some realize that the diapers changed, the koolaid served, the RA classes, the Sunday School and Training Union classes, the love, and yes, the admonitions were worth it after all. I'm nowhere near where I ought to be. But I'm a looooooong way from where I used to be. For which progress many there @ FBCFWB deserve credit.

Oh, how I wish I were a better steward of the gospel placed into my life so lovingly by so many back there. But oh my...how deep are the roots I have, even when the fruit seems lacking. Seasons like this past summer test and challenge the roots of one's being. And by the grace of God, the roots so tenderly cultivated there @ FBCFWB held.

You know those little snot-nosed kids who run around the church seeming to demand all of the church's attention? Those little twits who suck up so many of the church's resources? The ones who make you just shake your head in sadness? Well, keep loving on them and investing in them. For one day, years from now, one of them may come walking into your Sunday School class as a guest speaker and make a point of saying "Thanks!" By God's grace, they'll say it in glory with you forever.

To God be the glory for the rich spiritual roots He caused me to have!

In His Grip,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kind of Blue

50 years ago, one of the greatest jazz albums ever was being conceived in the mind of Miles Davis. 50 years ago next Spring, he and an amazing cast of musicians went into the studio and did their musical thing. In less than 10 hours, they got the job done.

And we are all better off because of it. (of course, 50 years ago next Spring, I was born too, but that's another post for another day...;) )

The album is called "Kind of Blue" and represents a new type of jazz. In jazz-speak, it's referred to as "cool jazz." Cool jazz was a reaction against the frenzied bebop that was so popular at the time. Whereas bebop relied on a bunch of notes played in rapid succession, cool jazz relies on the silence between the notes. Note: I love both types. Charlie Parker's frenetic sax playing, for example, is among my faves; but it's very tiring to listen to because it demands so much of the player and by extension of the listener. Cool jazz, on the other hand is very relaxing.
Charlie Parker is...the middle of a very loud & crowded dance floor with music thundering. Great fun, and quite wearing. Kind of Blue-vintage Miles is Friday afternoon sitting on the back deck enjoying a glass of tea & watching the dog sleep next to you. (I always play KoB when we go to the beach...Saturday morning when the beach is quiet, the breeze is gentle, and the sun hasn't made it unbearable outside yet.)
Not sure if jazz is your thing? Pretty sure jazz is not your thing? Pick up a copy of Kind of Blue. I know young folks who are head-banging rockers by nature who also love KoB. One such person lives in Oxford & is related to me.
Miles Davis on trumpet...Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on alto sax...John Coltrane on tenor (have mercy!)...Bill Evans on piano (aside: check out his album Waltz for Debby for more very good cool jazz)...Wynton Kelly, also on piano...Paul Chambers on bass...Jimmy Cobb on drums (the only one of the bunch who is still alive). They were in the studio for less than 10 hours total. Brittney Spears spends more time than that to record her...stuff! When one is a master of one's craft, and chooses to join with other masters, it just doesn't take very long to get it right.
The result is incredible! Rolling Stone magazine...Rolling Stone!...rates Kind of Blue as the 12th best album of all time in any genre. Again, my son who tends toward hard rock likes it. My daughter who tends toward Counting Crows or rap likes it.
You know how some music is great for its period, and then years later...not so much? That's not at all the case with Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. It has aged very, very well. Perhaps even better now than then, which is, of course, one sign of very good music. Yeah, there's been some very good jazz recorded since 1959. (My current favorite? Astral Project from New Orleans...great stuff, and a NOLA Jazz Fest favorite of ours and many others.) But for my money, this particular CD is as awesome a collection on one CD as there is. Go check it out!
"It's always been a gift with me, hearing the music the way I do.
I don't know where it comes from,
it's just there and I don't question it."
Miles Davis
Among my favorite songs of any genre are a couple of Miles pieces. My Funny Valentine & 'Round Midnight. Actually, neither of these are on Kind of Blue, but I just thought I'd throw that in. The versions I have (on other CDs) are live. And oh-so-tasty. The album Kind of Blue plus these two songs are among "most heavily played" on my ipod and/or itunes.
Check 'em out. I'll be listening to Kind of Blue on my computer tomorrow morning while polishing up a scintillating lecture on Commercial Loan Policy for Banking class. (note that commercial loan policy isn't pretty dadburn cool in & of itself, but Miles in the background will sure help...) *smile*

Monday, October 20, 2008

Following in the steps of William Carey...

When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
John 10:4
"I'm honored to have this opportunity to share with you our sheer joy at following in the steps of William Carey..."
With the verse above as his backdrop, and "following in the steps of William Carey" as the opening line, Tom Thurman delivered the William Carey lecture in our chapel time at WCU.
It was incredible!
I am so very blessed and honored to call Tom & his wife Gloria friends. Let me tell you just a bit about them.
There's an old hymn that goes like this:
There’s a call comes ringing over the restless wave,“Send the light! Send the light!”
There are souls to rescue there are souls to save,Send the light! Send the light!
Send the light, the blessèd Gospel light; Let it shine from shore to shore!
Send the light, the blessèd Gospel light;Let it shine forevermore!
Tom said that he & Gloria used to sing that hymn often. Very stirring words. One day, he felt impressed that God was telling him "I don't want you to send the light; I want you to take the light over the 'restless wave'."
So, in 1965, Tom resigned his pastorate with his young bride, and headed across the pond. Way across the pond. To what was then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Ferociously, militantly Moslem, combined with Hindu. A vastly different culture...with a completely different and challenging language. You know the pictures we see on the news of nearly annual flooding on a vast scale? That's Bangladesh. A long, long way from Monticello, MS.
35 years later, Tom and Gloria came back home. Their sons--both raised in Bangladesh--came to America to attend college. One son, Philip, is a dear friend of mine. He was on staff @ my church for a while; now he pastors a church up north of Jackson. Couple hundred members, mostly totally unchurched previously. The church started...(wait for it)...in Philip's living room 5 years ago. As I told Tom this morning, Philip is doing up north of Jackson exactly what he saw his folks do while Philip was growing up in Bangladesh. Philip is one of the most effective evangelists I have ever run across. Speaks 4 languages fluently, and can scramble his way through some others. The missionary focus of Tom & Gloria Thurman lives on in their two sons. I 'spect it is taking root in Philip & Lori's three children too. BTW, I asked Philip once what language he thinks in. Despite graduating from Mississippi College & Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and despite working in Atlanta for a few years, and despite marrying a Mississippi girl, he told me that he thinks in Bengali. "Home" to Philip means Bangladesh.
Monday morning, Tom showed us his copy of the Bengali translation of Scripture that William Carey translated. That's William Carey the guy...back in the early 1800s...the "Father of the Modern Missionary Movement." William & his associate travelled in the same part of the world back then. There are churches over there that still today have markers commemorating their speaking there. When Carey completed this particular translation, he remarked that his life's work was complete. He died shortly after. Tom calculates that he and Gloria are either the 9th or 10th generation of missionary in that part of the world. So when Tom spoke of "following in the steps of William Carey," he was speaking very literally.
So many stories, many of which I have heard while sitting in Tom & Gloria's living room in Columbia. Here's just two.
Tom offered a young man a ride in his rickshaw one day in the mid 1980s. Made contact, shared addresses, and kept in touch. A couple of years later, due to his continued contact with Tom, that young man became a Christian. An outspoken Christian (like we're all supposed to be...). The local Moslems were not amused. After prayer one day (ironic, huh?), they took the young man and beat and tortured him severely. (I'll spare the details, which are gruesome to ponder). Left him for dead. He was found the next day (still unconscious) and taken to a hospital, where he eventually recovered.
The end of that story? That same young man's reaction to the beating was to follow in the steps of Paul and Silas who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. The guy has started 7,000 churches in villages all over Bangladesh & eastern India. Over 300,000 & counting former Hindus & Moslems will be in glory because of the guy. Who will be in glory because this soft-spoken, southern gentleman from Monticello, MS was listening to a call that he himself gave to his church regularly. To take the light...the blessed gospel light. And that's just one of Tom & Gloria's spiritual children.
The other story involves a war. Remember George Harrison's "Concert for Bangladesh" in the early 1970s? Great concert/album. But the event that inspired GH to put on that concert was the civil war that ultimately resulted in "East Pakistan" becoming "Bangladesh." When the war broke out, Tom & Gloria prayed for direction. Nobody would have blamed them had they come back to America with their two young sons. They stayed. Philip remembers listening to the artillery & mortars around their village. The morning after one particular mortar barrage, Tom & Philip went walking through the village to check on their neighbors. The Moslem shopowners came up and said "Mr. Tom! You are here! We have hope because you are here..." (yeah, I know...chokes me up too, and I've heard/told the story a bunch of times...)
On behalf of Tom & Gloria Thurman...and William Carey before them...and Paul & Silas before them...will you go? More than that, on behalf of countless millions who have yet to hear...the countless millions who are "all His own" and who are waiting to "follow Him" and to "hear His voice" and join us in the white-hot eternal worship party around the throne...will you go?
Note carefully, as Tom reminded us this morning, it's wherever you are. Your home. Your neighborhood. Your workplace. Your county. Your state. Your nation. And maybe, just maybe, the other side of the world.
They're all waiting...let's all take the light!
p.s. - thanks, Tom, for following so well...and for encouraging and challenging all who cross your path...and for letting me sit in your living room as a friend. Your reward in glory continues to grow. Only eternity will show how great it is.